No, it’s not because of how she was dressed as you reported.

Srilatha Batliwala in “All about Power” while discussing the structures of power defines social power as the capacity of different

Srilatha Batliwala in “All about Power” while discussing the structures of power defines social power as the capacity of different individuals or groups to determine who gets what, who does what, who decides what, and who sets the agenda. Agenda setting power, she writes is almost the most important aspect of social power because it gets to determine what is important or not, what can be discussed and what matters. This is the kind of power the media has. 

You have seen, read, shared, laughed, and cracked jokes about it, written about it, or have been a victim. The vile trivial way that the media reports and talks about sexual harassment. From reporting harassment as love gone wrong to sanitizing rapists and, in multiple cases, continuing to give alleged perpetrators an audience. Some media houses go as far as protecting employees and reputable persons who have been accused of sexual harassment. A perfect example is the case of Mr. Bernhard Glaser, a German national who was the director of Ssese Humanitarian Services a community-based organisation located in Kalangala District that was arrested and charged with several crimes including human trafficking, aggravated defilement, and indecent assault of the young girls his CBO took under their care on the island. The media, after his passing went ahead to sanitise and paint him as a saint and saviour of the people at the Mwena landing site where his CBO was based. The continued victim-blaming and spread of dangerous stereotypes and myths go a long way to reinforce and condone the callous act in turn silencing victims leading to the continued occurrence. 

The events that make it to the media are the ones we pay attention to. If you live in Uganda, you have bypassed a group of people at a newspaper stand reading the headlines without necessarily buying the paper or reading the details. The same has been adopted to the different social media platforms. We often wake up to check our twitter and Facebook feed just to be hit with traversing headlines. These stories and occurrences then become what we care about, discuss, and form opinions around. Media framing and portrayal of cases of sexual abuse can be substantial in leading a reader to perceive the victim and perpetrator in different ways. 

It is therefore of utmost importance that the media went back to the drawing board when it comes to reporting sexual harassment because of the agenda-setting power it holds. Sexual harassment scars women, physically, emotionally, physiologically, and financially. There is so much at stake especially for women and yet these occurrences are still reported and discussed inaccurately and even harmfully by the ones with the agenda-setting power. The media has the power to shift the narrative, demystify the stereotypes, and advocate for justice for the victims of sexual harassment.

Good coverage of sexual abuse yields results as seen with the investigation and suspension of the lecturer at Makerere University after Raymond Mujuni’s investigative story and the uproar that ensured after Kiki Mordi’s BBC Eye Sex for Grades documentary in Ghana and Nigeria universities. 

Women’s sexual harassment experiences are neither jokes nor sources of entertainment. The media must therefore start by humanizing the victims and their experiences, focusing on the pain and the disruption that the victim is experiencing without castigating and victim-blaming. Words are powerful, the way one describes and reports events inform how people will react, and harassment should be reported as harassment, not as love gone bad, but as part of a continuum of violence that women face in our society.

Feminists on Twitter have been calling out different media houses for reinforcing harmful narratives about sexual harassment. Hire these feminists for training on how to write about it, feminist journalists including Rosebell Kagumire, Lydia Namubiru, Jacky Kemigisa among others also do a great job reporting and writing about women. Hire them to unlearn and relearn. Other platforms media houses can pick a leaf from include Black no Sugar, Wulira, Lakwena, African Feminism to mention but a few. 

Media as a public medium for information must ensure that the public understands sexual abuse cases with accurate portrayals so no, it was not because of how she was dressed, not a love affair that went wrong as you reported.

Hazel Birungi is a 2019 YELP Fellow, feminist, lawyer, and writer.  

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